At least a dozen armed FBI agents arrived early Friday morning at the Florida home of Roger Stone, President Trump’s longest-serving political adviser.
The street was dark when the tactical response team, donning shoulder weapons, body armor and fatigues, began banging on the home’s entrance, yelling, “FBI! Open the door.”
Stone was arrested and charged with lying to investigators, obstruction of justice and witness tampering; the Special Counsel’s Office filed a seven-count indictment late Thursday.
Stone described Friday’s raid, which was captured by CNN, in an interview with Alex Jones of Infowars: “Twenty-nine FBI agents showed up at my home, pounded on the door. I opened the door to pointed automatic weapons. I was handcuffed. There were 17 vehicles in the street with their lights on. They terrorized my wife and my dogs. They executed a search warrant to search the premises.”
In Stone’s arrest, the FBI’s show of force was markedly unusual for individuals apprehended out of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s office.
To morning joggers such as former NFL star Chad Johnson, the scene seemed movie-esque. To former special agents, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, the chosen arrest tactics were confounding.
Former federal prosecutor Kenneth White said the traditional reasons federal law enforcement would use the level of force seen at Stone’s home are twofold: Authorities have credible evidence the arrestee has firearms on the premises or will destroy evidence if they don’t enter quickly.
White said Stone’s arrest suggests that the Special Counsel’s Office believed “there was a danger he would destroy evidence if he was arrested in any way that gave him a way to do so or an opportunity to surrender.”
To execute an arrest warrant before dawn, prosecutors must receive permission from a judge.
Stone was arrested just after 6 a.m. Friday. Although the arrest may not have taken any special judicial permission, White said, “the level of force they used rather than having him surrender, suggests they thought he’d destroy evidence.”
Ross Gaffney, a former FBI supervisory special agent, agreed that an arrest after 6 a.m. isn’t considered an extraordinary circumstance.
“It could be they worried about destruction of evidence,” he said. “Overwhelming show of force by an armed SWAT team at zero-dark-30 would dissuade anyone who had an inkling to act out from doing so.”
Nevertheless, Gaffney felt that “something was peculiar.”
Gaffney, who was with the FBI for nearly three decades, supervised an international fraud and money laundering squad in the Miami division.
“None of the charged offenses are violent. He’s represented by counsel. Everything that I know — in terms of U.S. attorney’s office policy — would permit that individual to surrender,” he said. “Sending out a heavily armed team is a lot of bodies and a lot of weapons.”
Former federal prosecutor Paul Butler said the early morning drama is probably part of Mueller’s strategy to flip Stone, calling it “a visceral message: ‘Welcome to the criminal legal process. If you don’t want to be treated like this for the rest of your life, let’s make a deal.’ "
Butler, now a Georgetown Law professor, explained that Stone — a key witness for collusion — must decide if he is more afraid of Trump than he is of going to prison.
“Stone reportedly has held out, refusing to cooperate,” he said, unlike Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen who “flipped like a pancake almost as soon as he was in trouble” and now acts “like a more traditional snitch looking for a deal.”
“If [Stone] testifies that candidate Donald Trump coordinated the release or deployment of the WikiLeaks hacked emails, that would be extremely incriminating for the president,” Butler said, adding that Stone’s steadfast loyalty to the president would actually make any incriminating admissions all the more credible.
Harvard Law professor Ronald Sullivan cited the same key difference between Cohen and Stone: Counsel for Cohen engaged in robust conversations with prosecutors and reached a disposition. From all published reports, it appeared Stone had no desire to engage in any such discussions.
He warned that “all citizens should be concerned” about Friday morning’s forceful arrest.
“It was a result of Stone exercising his constitutional right not to cooperate,” said Sullivan, who previously served as the director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. “Given his age, the fact that he has a lawyer and that his lawyer has been in touch with the Special Counsel’s Office, it’s extraordinarily odd that they didn’t allow a client to surrender.”